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Introduction to motivation and directions of motivation

A definition of motivation and a description of the factors that influence it
Mountain with snow
© Photo by Alain Rieder on Unsplash

Motivation is critical to success. Without sufficient motivation, athletes may struggle to dedicate themselves to training or overcome challenges. Outside of elite sport, people may need motivation to engage in regular exercise or adhere to a rehabilitation programme. Motivation varies from person to person and a number of factors can influence it, but what is motivation?

Motivation can be defined as the direction and intensity of effort. Direction of effort refers to how an individual is attracted towards certain activities and/or situations, for example a child wanting to attend soccer training after school. Intensity of effort refers to the amount of effort an individual applies to a certain situation. Extending the previous example, a child may attend after school soccer training but not actually put in much effort when they are there. In another example, a recreational athlete looking to keep fit might only attend the gym twice a week, but could apply a great deal of effort and intensity to their workouts. As you can see, direction and intensity of effort are often closely related, but it is important to note that this is not always the case.

There are different types of motivation as well. Intrinsic motivation is an internal drive to succeed and do the best you can. It can be likened to ‘playing for the love of the game’. Extrinsic motivation comes from an external source and, in the context of sport, may take the form of rewards such as prize money, medals, and trophies. In recreational settings, it could take different forms such as treating yourself for attending the gym every day for a week.

It is generally believed that intrinsic motivation is of greater long-term benefit when it comes to sport and exercise. In this way, motivation to train or compete becomes almost self-sustaining as it comes from a desire to achieve competency and master a sport. Extrinsic rewards, however, can actually decrease intrinsic motivation. The expectation of receiving a reward for your hard work can diminish your inward desire to participate in an activity, and subsequently the time spent engaging in it. For example, professional athletes may sometimes lose sight of their original desire for playing a sport if they become too preoccupied with external rewards.

Identifying an appropriate source of motivation and maintaining that is, therefore, of critical importance to athletes at all levels. Thus, it is a key area of focus for the sport psychologist. Mental skills training can provide the tools and structure to help an athlete increase or sustain motivation in several ways. For example, goal setting can be used to structure a programme of challenging but realistic goals that demonstrate to an athlete their own increasing competency in a sport. Mental practice can also be useful in providing stimulating training even when physical practice is not possible due to injury. We will discuss how motivation can be facilitated with mental skills training in greater detail over the duration of this course.

What motivates you? Have you ever felt unmotivated in relation to sport?

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Mental Skills Training for Sport and Health

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